Nov. 16--With "The Memory of Water," the University of Wisconsin-Superior's theater has staged one of its finest -- if not the finest -- productions in many seasons.
Cathy A. Fank directed this production of Shelagh Stephenson's story of three sisters gathering for their mother's funeral that is putatively about the subjectivity of memory, but is really more about relationships.
The play has been compared to "Crimes of the Heart," but Stephenson's script is much better than Beth Henley's. It's funnier and more poignant, and its characters easier to relate to.
It's possible the characters seem so real in this production because the cast is so strong. All six actors bring an uncommonly high level of confidence and conviction to their roles, even with the occasional tone-deaf delivery of a line here and there.
The finest jobs are done by Gabrielle Ford, as the eldest, now a physician, Mary; Ashley Kelleher as the anal-retentive nutritional supplements retailer, Teresa; and Hannah Fiedler as the flighty, shopaholic youngest, Catherine.
In Act I, the trio handles the rapid-fire dialogue with assurance, bickering and talking past each other as Teresa insists on selecting a floral arrangement while Catherine pesters her sisters about borrowing a skirt. They quibble over past events, such as which of them was left at the beach.
As they sort their mother's clothing and begin trying it on while Catherine passes a roach around, the ties that bind begin to re-emerge, until Catherine's comment to Mary -- "You look dead, like Mom" -- has them collapse in a heap on the bed, giggling uncontrollably.
Act II draws out the causes of each woman's resentment, bitterness or insecurity, again played with exceptional credibility by the three actresses. Whereas Act I has the poignancy slipped into the humor, in Act II, the ratio is reversed.
The real core of the production is the distinct bond among the three
actresses, ironically portraying characters who desperately want to find, but cannot, that same connection.
Sue Wedan's set is perfect: a slightly dated, distinctly feminine bedroom of a house in Maine in 1997. To this she has added old photographs pasted to the set's floor and also the stage skirting, reminiscent of a funeral photo collage.
Ben Birdseye's sound design -- heavy on the Nat King Cole -- is judicious and evocative.
Paul Brissett is a Duluth writer and amateur actor who has appeared in numerous community theater productions.
If you go
What: "The Memory of Water"
Where: Manion Theater, Holden Fine and Applied Arts Center, UWS, 1805 Catlin Ave., Superior
When: 7:30 p.m. today and Nov. 22-23 and 2 p.m. Sunday
How much: $12, but $10 for seniors and non-UWS students and $2 for UWS students
For information: uwsuper.edu/theatre
The review: An outstanding cast makes the most out of a superb script.
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